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Hospital room service: Computers keep tabs on available beds, patient info

POSTED: October 31, 2008 5:00 a.m.
SCOTT ROGERS/The Times

The Northeast Georgia Medical Center's new patient status monitoring system even has touch-screen monitors in the hallways for quick use by the medical staff and allows the hospital's custodial staff to keeps tabs on their duties in each room.

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Ever go to a busy restaurant and have to wait for a table to be cleared off so you could be seated?

Hospitals have the same problem when it comes to admitting patients. In the past, hospital staff had to call around or actually visit rooms in order to find one that was clean and available.

But since June, Northeast Georgia Medical Center has been using a new computer program that indicates every room’s status in a color-coded, on-screen display.

At a glance, workers can tell when a room is occupied, when the patient has been discharged but the room is still being cleaned, and when it’s ready for the next patient.

They can also see if a patient is temporarily out of the room to have a procedure done, and how long they’ve been gone. Doctors can even check the program to see if their patient’s test results have come back.

All of this is possible thanks to a program called Horizon Enterprise Visibility, which has been installed at both of the medical center’s campuses in Gainesville.

Jim Gardner, chief executive officer of Northeast Georgia Health System, said there’s been a huge increase in efficiency since the program debuted.

"It’s pretty cool," he said. "We’re turning rooms over at a much faster rate."

Karen Eber is the system administrator for the program, which is monitored at the "access center," the hospital’s patient services hub.

She said calls to the access center dropped dramatically after the program was introduced.

"Before, we had a problem knowing what rooms were available," Eber said. "We had to physically go and count rooms. Now, we can tell the patient, ‘Your room is being cleaned and it will be ready in 10 minutes.’ It’s a great customer service."

The program works in two ways. It interfaces with the hospital’s existing database that contains patient information, and the status of the room itself can be updated by employees such as housekeepers and patient transport technicians.

For example, when a housekeeper begins cleaning a room, or when an employee takes the patient to another part of the hospital for tests, he or she hits a touchscreen.

On the monitor display, an occupied room shows up as green. The color brown means the room is waiting for cleaning; brown with white stripes means it’s in the process of being cleaned.

"When the room is finished, the housekeeper hits the touchscreen and it turns white," Eber said.

Knowing exactly when a room is ready allows patients to be admitted more quickly, cutting down on wait time.

Unit secretaries, nurses and doctors can all pull up the display on computers throughout the hospital. They can move the computer mouse over a particular room on the display to get information about a patient.

But, in accordance with federal privacy laws, all the public sees is a colorful screen. No patient information is visible to a person just walking by.

Eber said the system has revolutionized how employees keep track of rooms. "We went from about 90 percent manual (tracking) to 100 percent automated overnight," she said.

The process of what hospitals call "bed control" can often seem like a game of musical chairs, especially on days when there’s a large influx of patients scheduled for surgery. Eber said the new program takes some of the guesswork out of the job.

"The staff loves it," she said. "It helps us to plan our day."



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